Some background first: I am in a East-Asia-based company. I am not a foreigner so basically there is no cultural gaps in this case. It's kind of stereotype to say this but I do think I have to really take care about the atmosphere in workplace. My colleagues values personal connection so much that I always feel awkward when I distance myself from them. They are professional and kind folks, but I just don't needs these people to be my friends.

So, let's get started from calling this guy Z, who I refer to as a seemingly irresponsible colleague.

Due to some business strategy announced from top managers, Z and I are assigned a job that we will attend a technical conference in North America. We will have to join a discussion session to present our showcases and experiences, and hopefully that we can establish credits for our company.

Sorry for another stereotype but truth here: Most people here are afraid of speaking English, and actually I myself am too. Listening and speaking in response as a normal communication process is like a few light-year out of our comfort zone.

Z is a person fun to be around. Everyone likes him. But since we are assigned this job, he keeps talking to me something like,

"Hey, how about this: I give you my part, and you present for both of us?"

"What are you going to do then?" I always try very hard to calm myself down.

"Canada!" He smiles as usual, "I will bring my wife there and I don't want she feel bored."

Such situation can even happen under our direct manager's nose, like

"Oh my English just can't afford it. I want him to take over these job!!!" Z.

"..." Me.

The reason why I did not fight back is that he hasn't really done anything towards that direction. And the atomosphere counted here. My direct manager had no response on this conversation in our Slack channel, which also make me very disappointed.

And now, the rehearsal to a top manager is near. Z starts worrying about if his travel budget will be canceled because of the possibly bad performance of himself.

The story does not end here, and the future is unknown. "What should I do with this guy?" is just a general question. Actually I am more interested in this one: "What will you do with such person in similar situation?"

Just a wild guess, such situation is probably special here in my country, and maybe other near East-Asia countries. We don't have presentation training in regular education programs, so basically everyone is't aware of "presentation" as a social skill until he/she goes to college. The same applies to English education, especially in the Speaking part.

Appreciate for all the answers, suggestions and critics.

  • 1
    Welcome to The Workplace! It appears your main concern is your team making a presentation in a foreign language that no one is comfortable with. That's a valid question, and your title should show that.
    – DrSheldon
    Oct 23, 2018 at 2:45
  • 7
    You could (and should) delete 95% of this post. All you need is “My colleague is trying to get out of a difficult task we’ve been assigned jointly: speaking at a conference in a language that isn’t our first language. How can I convince him to step up and do his part?” The rest is just noise. Oct 23, 2018 at 2:54
  • Has Z done much to help prepare your presentation? It might not be unreasonable to have you do most of the presenting if Z did more work on other parts of the project.
    – Upper_Case
    Oct 23, 2018 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


Keep focusing on your part in the presentation but brush up on your partner's part in it as well. Let your partner prepare for his part but be prepared to step in during the actual presentation.

If your partner puts up a bad performance in front of a top manager during the rehearsal, then he'd have shown his incompetence/lack of preparation. Just in case that isn't enough to get him to get his act together, you'll at least be prepared in the actual presentation to make sure everything flows smoothly.

Your individual performances might be noticeable in the rehearsal, but in front of people from other companies and potential partners, your joint performance is the only one that matters. Just watching him mess up then will still result in a bad impression on not just the both of you, but for your company as well.


"Hey, how about this: I give you my part, and you present for both of us?"

"What are you going to do then?" I always try very hard to calm myself down.

"Canada!" He smiles as usual, "I will bring my wife there and I don't want she feel bored."

Your colleague isn't "irresponsible" - he's lazy, basically he wants a free holiday in Canada for him and his wife and trying to foist his part of the work off on to you and hiding behind his difficulties with English to do it.

Z starts worrying about if his travel budget will be canceled because of the possibly bad performance of himself.

Yep, he's definitely just worried about missing out on his work-paid holiday.

In your position I'd keep pushing back/refusing any suggestion that you do "his" part - but I'd brush up on it discreetly just in case. Stay firm that you expect him to do his part of the presentation and then see where the chips fall during the rehearsal - if he bombs and gets pulled from the trip then you can use your earlier prep to pick up what you need to.


"Hey, how about this: I give you my part, and you present for both of us?"

Having a delegation (especially from a foreign country) at a conference where one person presents for the group and the others are nearly silent partners isn't something that's really going to seem that odd to the audience. This isn't school, where every member of the team must be an active participant in the project presentation.

Granted, having a single speaker might be most justified if the silent one seems to be something of an expert who needs the talkative one to translate to the local language when talking informally with other attendees, but even if not, because that pattern exists, what your colleague wants to do is not going to appear abnormal to others. And if you can well represent the company, then it's not a negative for the company's image either.

It seems like you're a bit worried about the "fairness" of this arrangement, and perhaps if even if your co-worker is really just trying to get a free vacation with his wife out of it.

But if you can do your job well in a way that reflects well on your company, then the degree to which your co-worker is or is not returning value for the investment the company will make in sending him should perhaps be more management's concern than yours.

Don't collaborate to hide what your co-worker is doing from your supervisor.

But you also don't need to make an issue of it.

If management is perceptive enough to take concern at the inefficiency, fine. But if they are not overly worried about the efficiency of the expense, this does not seem like it is going to prevent you from achieving a good outcome for the company. You are the one who is going to get useful experience out of speaking at a conference and be in a better position to do so again in the future; your co-worker is just going to get a vacation.


Does your company have any native English speakers (preferably foreigners from English-speaking countries)? If so, you should have one (or more, preferably) rehearsals of your presentation with Z in front of the foreign employees, to get feedback on your style. With enough lead time, the foreign employees can give you pointers on things like your presentation, organization, English level, and so on.

As for what to do with the presentation in particular, are you comfortable presenting Z's part? Presumably Z is presenting his part for a reason; he's a subject matter expert in that part, or he developed that part, or something else. If that's the case, then Z should be made aware of his value to the presentation; you don't want to be fielding questions on a presentation for which you don't know half the material.

As for Z wanting a free trip to Canada on the company's dime, that's not really your concern. You should certainly bring up this issue to your manager or whoever is organizing the trip, that if they send Z then they will be wasting company money. However, beyond that it's not really your call; the best you can do is feel sorry for yourself that the company is wasting money on Z but making you do the work for both of them. However, it is more likely that your boss will tell Z to suck it up and do the presentation, or he doesn't get to go on the trip.

As for the most important part, your English skill: You are from a foreign country, especially an East Asian country (this is important, because Europeans who travel abroad tend to have good English skills, while Asians typically do not, at least in my experience, and also that's the stereotype). You are not expected to have perfect English; to the contrary, it will not be looked as particularly out of the ordinary if you say some things that are completely incomprehensible, as long as most of your presentation makes sense. As such, I wouldn't worry too much about being looked down on for your English skill; the audience understands (or should understand) that English is not your native language and it should be fine. I would pass on this advice to Z as well, if he is nervous.

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